• Vending machines: still working out the kinks

    There was an interesting story in the NYT on monday on vending machines offering more healthy options in schools. First of all, I was surprised to see how much of a business vending machines were in schools:

    Of the nation’s nearly 5.4 million vending machines, 6.8 percent were in elementary, middle and high schools in 2010, up from 5 percent the year before, according to a survey by Automatic Merchandiser Magazine. Another 5.9 percent were at colleges.

    The school I went to growing up had none, so this was news to me. Things are changing for those schools that do, however:

    While 27 states have adopted policies regulating nutritional content in elementary schools’ vending machines — typically limiting fat, sugar, calories and portion size — some of those policies have lacked teeth, said Elizabeth Walker, a project director for the National Association of State Boards of Education. Under a 2010 law, however, the federal Agriculture Department must set national nutrition standards for school vending machine foods and drinks by the end of next year.

    I am thrilled that schools are trying to encourage healthy options for kids. But let’s not minimize how hard it is going to be to change behavior:

    Commack’s healthy machine sold 296 items totaling $388.75 from Sept. 1 to Sept. 19, less than one-third of the sales made by a nearby machine that offers less nutritious fare. Moreover, the top-selling item from the new machine was baked potato chips — less fat than fried chips, but less than ideal — with almost no takers for peach smoothies, roasted edamame or fresh pineapple chunks.

    Especially since the healthy options are more expensive:

    In Commack, some students complained that items in the new machine were either unappealing or expensive: hummus is $3; yogurt smoothies, $2; and a pair of hard-boiled eggs, $1.50, compared with the more typical $1 for a bag of chips. John, the 10th grader who walked away, said he mistakenly bought a grape-raspberry twist for $1 last week — he was aiming for the baked barbecue chips — and “it just tasted really bad.”

    Plus, no offense, but the thought of getting two hard-boiled eggs out of a machine is making me a bit nauseous.

    Look, it’s hard to be against this. I think it’s fantastic that the schools are trying to help offer more healthy options. I’m also encouraged by the fact that vending machine companies are continuing to make money off of selling healthier snacks instead of closing down altogether, or figuring out ways to get around the new regulations. I’m skeptical that we’ll see real change, though, while healthier snacks are both less appealing and more costly.

    • I went to Commack HS. Greasy french fries, bagels with 4 tbsps of butter, and Elios pizza. That was lunch on the health plan back then. Marlboro’s were plentiful in the courtyard as well.

      The neighborhood has changed, the vending machines have as well.

      Teenagers remain the same. Next.

      Brad F

    • I graduated from a high school in the Georgia in 2004. It was located in an suburb just outside of Atlanta. Every morning the cafeteria ladies would be in the hall, not even the cafeteria mind you but the hall, and would be selling students Chick-Fil-A biscuits for breakfast. Every Friday we had Chick-Fil-A available at lunch, and Chick-Fil-A provided free fried chicken sandwiches to the marching band members after every football game. Talk about unhealthy school partnerships.

      It would take some massive policy change in the Georgia State Legislature to even begin to crack that partnership, because the school sees it as a way of subsidizing the less profitable school lunch plan or using it as an alternative form of revenue to pay for sports programs, new books, etc. Same thing with the vending machines. How do you even begin to think about how to remove that type of revenue dependency?

    • i remember a major campaign to get soft drink vending into the schools in the late 80s, early 90s

      NOW with bill moyer covered the present state of affairs


      The October 18, 2002 NOW WITH BILL MOYERS broadcast features a segment on soft drink sales in schools.

      “The CDC also reports that 43.0% of elementary, 73.9% of middle/junior high, and 98.2% of senior high schools have a vending machine or a school store, canteen, or snack bar where students can purchase food or beverages. In an effort to raise additional funds for schools, about 200 districts across the country have signed contracts with soft drink companies that provide beverages to their schools. For every drink sold, the school makes a profit. Many schools also receive significant signing bonuses and other perks. Schools say the money earned this way helps to make up where property taxes fall short, and that they are able to flexibly fund activities, building improvements, and other important efforts. Despite such benefits, some believe that such schools are selling out on student health in an effort to make money.”

    • Is there any evidence at all to support the claim that any of these policy interventions have had any effect at all on the incidence and prevalence of obesity? If you’ll allow me to engage in a bit of snark:

      1. If anything the regression coefficients go the other way. Post hoc, ergo…

      2. If this was a standard health policy debate – we’d have legions of wonks churning the data through ANOVA and.fretting over the variations in the comparative effectiveness of anti-obesity spending campaigns in Boulder, CO and Paducah, KY and concluding that the answer can only be that anti-obesity workers in Paducah have been incentivized to favor expensive and ineffective modes of intervention that over-utilize highly compensated specialists….